Weekly Spins

Soft & Slow

Amen Dunes builds up a tense, bedroom-fi aesthetic. Photo Vincent Yip

Amen Dunes
Through Donkey Jaw
Sacred Bones Records

With an approach that sits somewhere between those of Dirty Beaches and Women, Damon McMahon’s solo project Amen Dunes offers an edgy introversion with his second LP. The record clings to bedroom-fi aesthetic, falling into pits of reverb and distorted guitar, melting into minimal percussion. Rising from repetitive feedback, song fragments appear over faint percussive pulses to guide you through the haze.

Through Donkey Jaw is a collection of McMahon’s trippy ideas, falling together as a slow-burning return to music after five years in Beijing. Starting out as desert seranades gestating in upstate New York, this LP is a tense vocals-and-noise driven piece, making more sense as a whole than its disjointed elements do on their own.

There are the odd moments of softness (the meditative “For All”) but more often it gives off an eroding chaos (“Jill”). There’s very little to hang onto in this record, but after a few listens the ideas begin to make sense.

At its most lively, the album hearkens to the clangy psychedelia of the 13th Floor Elevators, but most of the time Amen Dunes slow things to a steady dirge, building and receding with each drawn out chord. It’s sparse and haunting, a quiet record save the odd point of climactic noise.

But don’t expect any resolution; it engages only insofar as you let the strange tension seep into you.

Amen Dunes (w/ This Will Destroy You & Mountains) / Feb. 5 / Casa del Popolo (4873 St. Laurent Blvd.)
– Colin Harris

Sharon Van Etten
Jagjaguar Records

Indie-folk songstress Sharon Van Etten has a soft and subtly haunting voice, and her vocals are the focus point of her latest effort, Tramp.

Over mellow guitar and almost ethereal melodies, Van Etten’s harmonies are strong and focused.
Themes of movement, displacement and love lost and found are obvious, and Van Etten’s lyrics are often blunt and direct—a far cry from the poetic tendency of folk songs to get lost in their own lyricism.

The album also includes cameos from other indie artists, such as Zach Condon of Beirut and Matt Barrick of The Walkmen. The collaborations feel natural and each additional vocalist harmonizes with Van Etten seamlessly.

She transitions from soft whimsical ballads to an almost rock-like intensity, showing her diverse musical range. It’s easy to listen to the 44-minute album in an almost dreamlike state, not quite realizing you’ve done so until the very end.

Tramp is honest, easy to fall into and the confessional nature will leave Van Etten fans satisfied and new listeners hooked.

stream album here
– Alex McGill